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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1098

While visiting one weekend at Waterbath, the country house of the Brigstock family, Mrs. Gereth meets and is immediately drawn to a young woman named Fleda Vetch. The basis of the attraction is a mutual sensitiveness to beautiful things; each guesses that the other possesses such a feeling when they...

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While visiting one weekend at Waterbath, the country house of the Brigstock family, Mrs. Gereth meets and is immediately drawn to a young woman named Fleda Vetch. The basis of the attraction is a mutual sensitiveness to beautiful things; each guesses that the other possesses such a feeling when they meet one morning while obviously trying to escape the house and the rest of the party. Their aversion emerges not because Waterbath is exceptionally ugly, but rather because it is so very ordinary while pretending to be lovely. The house and the garden might have been quite attractive, and should have been so, but the Brigstocks, people without even a hint of feeling or taste, had had everything done over to fit the very latest fashion. It is this air of fashionable conformity to which Fleda and Mrs. Gereth object. They recognize what the estate would have been naturally, and they can only be repulsed by what it has become.

Mrs. Gereth’s horror of Waterbath is particularly acute because of the comparison she inevitably makes between it and her own home at Poynton. Everything at Poynton is exquisite. She and her late husband had gradually furnished it after years of scraping and saving so that they might have the best. Every article in the house had been carefully chosen during their travels in various parts of the world, and she rightly considers their home the most beautiful place in England. Unfortunately, the estate had been left to her son Owen, and she knows that she will have to give it up, along with her beloved treasures, when he marries. Her secret dread is that he will marry a woman with as little a sense of the beautiful as he himself has. She therefore spends much of her time at Waterbath trying to turn his attention from Mona Brigstock, who personifies everything she dreads, to Fleda Vetch, the one person of her acquaintance who would appreciate and preserve Poynton as it is.

When Mrs. Gereth, with somewhat ulterior motives, invites Fleda to come to Poynton as a friend and permanent companion, Fleda, who has no real home of her own, readily accepts. To the chagrin of both women, Owen soon writes that he is planning to marry Mona and that he is bringing her within a week to see the estate. Mona, of course, approves of the home. Although she fails to appreciate its beauty and immediately begins planning certain changes, she does realize that every article in the house has some value, and she insists that Mrs. Gereth leave all but her personal belongings as they are. Mrs. Gereth is to be given the smaller, but still charming, estate called Ricks.

At first, Mrs. Gereth refuses to be moved, but she finally agrees to make the change when it is decided that she can take with her a few of her prized objects. Owen, who is very much disturbed at being pushed by Mona to the point of having a serious conflict with his mother, solicits Fleda’s aid in getting his mother to make the move quickly. This request only complicates matters, however, for Fleda soon falls in love with Owen and cannot really be effective as an agent for both parties in the controversy. She encourages Mrs. Gereth to move quickly and quietly, leaving Poynton essentially as it is, but, because of her feelings toward both her friend and the estate, she also encourages Owen to give his mother more time.

During these negotiations, it becomes necessary for Fleda to go to London to see her father. While she is gone, Mrs. Gereth leaves Poynton. Her moving is quick and quiet. When Fleda rejoins her at Ricks, she finds that the woman has moved virtually all of the furnishings from Poynton. Owen and Mona are less than pleased. In fact, Mona postpones the wedding; she refuses to marry Owen until Poynton again holds its rightful belongings. Again, Mrs. Gereth is stubborn, and more negotiations ensue, with both sides once more depending on Fleda for aid.

This time it is Owen’s turn to fall in love. His strained relations with Mona, which cause a rather close relationship with Fleda, leave him emotionally unstable. He had also lately come to realize how much Poynton, as he had always known it, means to him and to appreciate anyone who understands its beauty and value as Fleda does. He knows that his life would be much more satisfactory if he were about to marry Fleda instead of Mona. Mrs. Gereth, who had always been willing to give up Poynton to anyone who could love it as she does, says that she will gladly send back everything for Fleda. A realization of this fact finally causes Owen to declare his love for Fleda and to ask her to marry him.

Fleda, although she acknowledges her own feelings, will make no move until Owen has completely broken with Mona, and it is to this end that she sends him away. When Mrs. Gereth hears of these developments, she thinks that the situation has finally worked out to her liking, and she immediately sends everything back to Poynton. This act proves a mistake, however, for as soon as Mona hears that the furnishings have been returned, she immediately becomes her former charming self and again captivates Owen. Unfortunately, because of his honor as a gentleman, Owen cannot break the engagement unless the lady demonstrates that she wishes to do so; Mona now makes it clear that she does not wish to end the engagement. She quickly marries him and moves at once to Poynton to acknowledge and secure her possession of the house and its contents. Soon, the couple begins an extended tour of the Continent.

Fleda and Mrs. Gereth again take up residence at Ricks and succeed in making a charming place out of it, in spite of having little to work with and of having to do it with broken hearts. Some time later, Fleda receives a letter from Owen asking her to go to Poynton and take whatever object she most prizes; because of her love both for Owen and for the estate, she resolves to do so. When she arrives at the station, still more than a mile from Poynton, she sees great billows of smoke rising from that direction. It is a porter who tells her that everything is lost. Poynton and all of its beautiful furnishings are destroyed in a fire, which was probably caused by a faulty lamp, aided tremendously by a strong wind.

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